Either tonight, May 15, or tomorrow, May 16 (depending upon the sighting of the moon), the month of Ramadan commences; it is one of the most important times in the Muslim calendar and the Muslim community.
Ramadan is the name of one of the religious months in the Muslim calendar, which, like other religious traditions, is a calendar based upon lunar months, not solar months. Thus, you’ll notice that the month of Ramadan “travels” about 11 days earlier in our standard solar calendar each year, and lasts 29-30 days.
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Muslim liturgical calendar. During Ramadan, which commemorates the month that Muhammad received the first revelations of the Qur’an (he received the revelation over a period of 23 years, from 610-632 CE), Muslims are to abstain from food AND drink between dawn and sunset. There are, similar to other religious fasting traditions, exceptions for those for whom fasting would be physically dangerous.
Fasting as a spiritual discipline is present in many religions. The simple act of mastering physical needs brings forth focus and concentration. Many traditions also use the physical sensation of hunger as a spiritual reminder of our hunger for God, so Ramadan is a time of reflection, humility, and gratitude to God. Being hungry and thirsty also remind us of the daily realities of so many people who do not have enough of the basic necessities of life, such as food and water.
One thing to consider is that fasting is not seen as a burden, though it is not an easy or pleasant experience. To complain of one’s fasting or to draw attention to it defeats the purpose of fasting. Ramadan is an opportunity; in fact, I overheard at an event a young man who said he was looking forward to Ramadan, as it was a spiritual challenge as well as a month to spiritually “cleanse” himself, to be in touch with those elements in his life that were most important.
Besides fasting, reading of the Qur’an in its entirety as well as acts of charity are disciplines practiced during Ramadan. The breaking of the fast each evening is also a time of celebration and for people to gather together in festive ways; in fact, there are many iftar (breaking of the fast) meals in the Greater Houston Muslim community that welcome the general public. Such opportunities are excellent ways to visit a mosque, enjoy wonderful hospitality, and build understanding. The final breaking of the fast at the end of Ramadan, the Eid-al-Fitr, is an especially joyous holiday. Valuable resources can be found at one of our partner organizations, Islamic Networks Group (ING), at https://ing.org/ramadan-mubarak-tools-ramadan-hunger-awareness-campaign/.
Ramadan Mubarak (“a blessed Ramadan”) or Ramadan Karim/Kareem (“a generous Ramadan”) are common greetings or expressions of well wishes during Ramadan.